DARPA names winner in shredder challenge

Just 33 days after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its competition to reconstruct documents from thousands of shredded pieces, a winner has emerged.

A small team from San Francisco triumphed over nearly 9,000 other teams to piece together more than 10,000 shredded bits to solve five puzzles of increasing difficulty. The team spent more than 600 man-hours to develop custom-coded computer-vision algorithms that helped the team put together the pieces.

DARPA launched the challenge in late October as part of efforts to gain insight into the best strategies techniques for triaging and exploiting documents that could hold critical information – such as the “pocket litter” found in war zones and used for intelligence. DARPA was also looking to identify vulnerabilities in U.S. methods of shredded sensitive documents.

Related story:

Unshred a document, win $50,000

The challenge represented a prime example of federal use of crowdsourcing, a practice that is gaining ground as the government looks to innovative ways of solving complex problems.

“The DARPA Shredder Challenge underscores the value of increasing the number and diversity of problem solvers,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan in the released announcement. “The varied methods used have potential implications for so-called ‘wicked problems,’ generally considered insolvable by conventional means, and offer the possibility of increased speed, agility and breadth in innovation.”

But it proved to be more than just an exercise in a new IT trend, according to Dan Kaufman, director, DARPA Information Innovation Office.

“Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all let alone within the short time frame,” Kaufman said. “The most effective approaches were not purely computational or crowdsourced, but used a combination blended with some clever detective work. We are impressed by the ingenuity this type of competition elicits.”

The winning team will receive $50,000 for its efforts. To view the puzzles, solutions and the overall theme of the competition, visit www.shredderchallenge.com.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group